Nineteen Democratic lawmakers urged President Donald Trump to remove Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta over a sweetheart plea deal he oversaw a decade ago for accused child sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein while serving as the top federal prosecutor in Miami, Florida.
The letter came the same day a federal judge in Florida ruled that Acosta and his former colleagues broke the law when they hid the 2008 plea deal from Epstein’s underage victims.
“This despicable unjust plea deal that was arranged by Acosta showed no respect for the suffering of the victims and credible accounts of human trafficking and was a clear abuse of power for political gain,” the letter read.
“We strongly believe that Secretary Acosta was negligent in his duty to represent the best interests of the victims and the U.S. Government. As such, we request that you immediately demand his letter of resignation.”
Acosta defended his actions in a statement issued through a Labor Department spokesperson.
“For more than a decade, the actions of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida in this case have been defended by the Department of Justice in litigation across three administrations and several attorneys general,” the statement read. “The office’s decisions were approved by departmental leadership and followed departmental procedures. This matter remains in litigation and, thus, for any further comment we refer you to the Department of Justice.”
Epstein, a well-connected hedge fund manager and billionaire, is accused of sexually abusing at least 80 women and girls, many of whom were allegedly underage. He allegedly asked his victims to recruit other young girls.
Despite the evidence against him, prosecutors allowed Epstein to plead guilty to two state prostitution charges. He served 13 months in a private wing of the county jail, where he spent much of his time on “work release” at his office and hired his own private security detail. Afterward, he served a year of probation and registered as a sex offender.
In exchange for Epstein’s plea on the state charges, Acosta and other federal prosecutors agreed not to prosecute him under federal law. They also hid that fact from Epstein’s victims, who could have challenged the plea deal at his sentencing.
The idea for the letter came from Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). It was triggered, in part, by a three-part investigation in the Miami Herald last November that gave the case fresh momentum in Congress and in the courts.
The Justice Department announced earlier this month that it is looking into the case, and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) has asked it to re-open the plea deal. Sasse also raised the issue last month at the confirmation hearing for Attorney General William Barr.
Under Friday’s ruling, prosecutors have 15 days to reach a settlement with Epstein’s victims. It’s not clear if that settlement could open Epstein up to federal charges in Florida, but he could face federal charges in other districts.